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Kevin Shields in 2008
|Birth name||Kevin Patrick Shields|
|Born||May 21, 1963 (1963-05-21)|
|Origin||Queens, New York|
|Associated acts||My Bloody Valentine|
After My Bloody Valentine went on hiatus in the early 90s, Shields had got work remixing and producing various musical acts. He has also played sporadically with Primal Scream since 1997. In 2003, he contributed music to the motion picture Lost in Translation, and was nominated a BAFTA for his efforts. More recently, Shields had provided musical accompaniment to Patti Smith's reading of her book The Coral Sea. In 2007, Shields announced that My Bloody Valentine had reunited and were recording new material.
Childhood and formative years
Born in Queens, New York City to a mother who worked as a nurse and a food-industry executive father, Kevin Shields is the oldest of five siblings. Shields' parents immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1950s. He went to a Catholic school that he has described as "a really horrible school run by psychopathic nuns." When he was 10 years old his family returned to Dublin to live close to the support of their extended family.
Shields has described the culture shock of moving to Ireland from the USA, reflecting particularly on the American consumer culture, saying, "It was like going from, as far as I was concerned, the modern world to some distant past." The one difference between the USA and Ireland that had a big impact on him was the marketing of music towards teenagers in the UK and Ireland. He said it didn't really exist in that way when he lived in the U.S. in the 1970s. Shields continues to hold a U.S. passport.
When Shields was 15 he was approached by a 12-year old who asked him if he wanted to be in a band. This band was where he first met My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig. The band was called The Complex and they played "somewhere between Oi! and older punk", Shields remarked. Expanding on how he developed his playing style he said, "I always just wanted to be like Johnny Ramone. Just be really good at one thing. I think because I was never dexterous, and because I never really learned how to play a scale, or lead guitar, or anything, but because I still wanted to be expressive, that made me use the tremolo arm, which gave me something to work with for a long time. I really get off on hearing, I can't even really describe it, the difference between hitting the same chord one way or another way, and the subtleties within that. So in that respect, more so than flashier guitar players, I can play and it sounds like the amp is turned down real low, and then play and it sounds like it's on really loud. Control."
One of the most recognisable aspects of Shields' music is his thick and dreamy guitar sound, associated with his later recordings with My Bloody Valentine.
Customizing the tremolo system for Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters, Shields manipulates the tremolo arm while strumming chords. He has had the tremolo arm on his guitars extended considerably and uses tape on one end so that the tremolo arm sits very high on the guitar and is very loose. (Alan Di Perna, Guitar World, March 1992, Pg. 26) With the tremolo arm in this position, his motion is not restricted, allowing him to strum chords without having to alter his motion to accommodate the tremolo arm. To thicken the sound, he plays through a Yamaha SPX 90 using a reverse reverb effect that inverts the normal reverb envelope without making the notes backward. (Alan Di Perna, Guitar World, March 1992, Pg. 152) Augmenting his sound further, he cranks amps to exceptionally loud volumes and uses open tunings, causing speaker "breakup" and increasing sustain. Instead of the usual note bending with a tremolo arm, he achieves a kind of chord bending that Rolling Stone described as, "a strange warping effect that makes the music wander in and out of focus". Fans who played the vinyl record of Loveless were known to check the records for warping on first playing them. On the subject of 1991 album Loveless Shields remarks, "the songs do have weird timings and things, but the textures come from the guitar tunings."
Shields has pointed out that he uses far fewer effects pedals and overdubs than fans and the music press sometimes make him out to use. He has noted many times in interviews that most tracks feature one or two main, albeit massive sounding, guitar tracks that give off many layers of sound. This has mistakenly led people to believe he uses multiple overdubs which he has repeated over and over is not how his sound is achieved, at least not before the Tremolo EP. Although Tremolo and Loveless featured more sampling and sampled guitar, (Simon Reynolds, NYTimes, December 1, 1991, Arts Section Pg. 26) one need only play around with a Jaguar or Jazzmaster and Yamaha SPX 90 with some strings in open tunings to get an idea of how he achieves a massive swirling guitar sound with one guitar that to some sound like numerous overdubs. Kevin's earlier recordings pre-Tremolo consisted mostly of one guitar during the chorus and then a guitar with a different tone during the verses. Tremolo and Loveless involved more sampling of guitars and synths. Shields explained, "Ninety percent of what we do is just a guitar straight into an amp." (Alan Di Perna, Guitar World, March 1992, Pg. 25-26) "People think it's all pedals, but all my pedals are graphic equalizers and tone controls. It's all in the tone." (Steve Double, NME November 9, 1991, pg. 14) Various effects pedals mainly play a role when trying to recreate studio sounds in a live setting.
Many have tried to replicate the guitar sounds on Loveless, with varying degrees of success. Shields even had trouble reproducing the sounds himself, as his live guitar sounds at the time varied greatly from those on the record. He was known to try to duplicate the sheer power of the recorded tone by turning on-stage monitors to face the audience, rather than the band. The My Bloody Valentine regular set closer "You Made Me Realise" typically included an interlude using blasts of noise and feedback that could go on as long as 40 minutes of which Shields remarked, "It was so loud it was like sensory deprivation. We just liked the fact that we could see a change in the audience at a certain point". Many, including Shields, note that the Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine shows were amongst the loudest rock concerts they had ever experienced. Fans even speculated that damaged eardrums had contributed to the post-Loveless absence of My Bloody Valentine.
In August 2003, Shields was voted the 95th greatest guitarist of all time by the Rolling Stone magazine.
For recent live shows he admitted to using 30 effects pedals to achieve his guitar sound.
My Bloody Valentine
When creating My Bloody Valentine's album Loveless, Shields became a relentless perfectionist. Shields attributed the time involved to both their lack of resources (money to get their guitars in shape was one example noted) and simply not recording when there was no inspiration to guide them. So many mistook the main guitar track for ten to fifteen layered guitars. Most tracks ultimately were done in one or two takes with one or two main guitar tracks. The most notable exception is "To Here Knows When" which took months to create and even longer to mix. He went through 18 recording engineers before finishing Loveless. Other eccentricities included not allowing the engineers to hear him or Bilinda Butcher singing while recording. These drawn out, expensive sessions allegedly drove Creation Records bankrupt, although Shields has refuted this claim saying many other bands on the label at the time were also to blame. Shields has commented that the extent of the contribution of the engineers was to get him tea and other gopher chores.
After Loveless, My Bloody Valentine signed on with the major label Island Records. Island ended up empty handed after financing the band for several years (finally spending approximately £500,000 according to Shields). Island cut off finances in 1997; however, Shields was still legally tied to the label until 2001 when the contract was finally terminated. In the meantime, Shields wrote many songs but never released them. The only work to come out of this period was two covers: We Have All the Time in the World (Louis Armstrong) on the 1993 Peace Together compilation; and a Wire cover on the 1996 tribute album Whore.
Shields expressed interest in a reunion and releasing a new album with My Bloody Valentine. In an interview with Magnet in 2007 he said, "We are 100% going to make another My Bloody Valentine record unless we die or something. I'd feel really bad if I didn't make another record. Like, shit, people only got the first two chapters, but the last bit is the best bit. It's just that it's taken me such an oddly long time for that to happen." In November 2007 Shields announced that the band had reunited and that a new album which the band had started recording in 1996 was "3/4th finished."
This reunion came to fruition starting in June 2008 with two live rehearsal shows at the ICA before a five-night stand at the Roundhouse in Camden. The band played a number of festivals, including the Roskilde Festival, Bestival, and the Electric Picnic. They had curated and performed at the 2008 All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Monticello, New York in September before playing a brief tour across the United States and Canada.
Since the cessation of activity of My Bloody Valentine, Shields has found steady work remixing and producing. Shields has done remixes and production/mixing for over 20 artists including Joy Zipper, Placebo and Yo La Tengo. These tracks give a fascinating look at Shields' ideas about rhythm and sound in general taking him away sometimes from the 4 minute pop song. After having worked with and remixed Primal Scream, he joined them on tour and in the studio between 1999 and 2006, featuring on the albums XTRMNTR and Evil Heat. Shields has played and produced with Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis on Dinosaur Jr's Hand It Over (with Bilinda Butcher) and J Mascis and the Fog's More Light. He also contributed (uncredited) guitar to the Manic Street Preachers' 2001 album Know Your Enemy on the track 'Freedom Of Speech Won't Feed My Children'. He contributed four tracks for the 2003 Sofia Coppola film Lost in Translation. He was nominated for a BAFTA for his contribution to the film score.
In 2005, he appeared at London's Meltdown Festival with Patti Smith, providing accompaniment to her reading of her book The Coral Sea (a tribute to her friend photographer Robert Mapplethorpe). This is available for streaming here. Live album The Coral Sea released on July 2008. Patti Smith has said My Bloody Valentine was her favorite group in the last 15 years. He co-wrote and performed some tracks of Le Volume Courbe's debut album. He has remixed and combined two songs for The Go! Team, "Ladyflash" and "Huddle Formation" into "Huddle Flash, which can be found on the "Ladyflash" single. The band has also expressed their desire for Shields to produce their second album . He remixed two songs by Bow Wow Wow, for the Sofia Coppola film Marie Antoinette.
In 2005, Kevin Shields was credited as "Noise Consultant" for the documentary film, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.
Kevin Shields has also done work with Canadian Contemporary Dance company Lalala Human steps when he created music for "2".
Most of Shields' siblings have gone on to various degrees of fame. His brother, Jimi, was a member of Rollerskate Skinny and Lotus Crown, and now currently is in Wounded Knees. Their sister, Anne Marie, has worked extensively in the music industry, and managed tours for the brothers' respective bands. Their youngest sibling is noted shoe designer Eileen Shields.
In the late 80s/early 90s, Shields and Bilinda Butcher had a relationship, which they had discussed in various interviews at the time. Recently, Shields has been linked to Charlotte Marionneau of Le Volume Courbe.
He along with the rest of My Bloody Valentine have been longtime friends with Dinosaur Jr.